The clocks fell back a few weeks ago. We have seen political power shift yet again in Congress. We are out of the Great Recession, though only Wall Street bankers seem to be enjoying the economic ‘growth.’ And Facebook has developed an email service that seems to be about ending email as a viable service. The changes are not permanent, but change is. And those in the not-for-profit sector must be ready to take on the challenges of change. Rebecca Thomas recently posted a two-part interview with Ben Cameron, program director for the arts at Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, on the subject of change and how philanthropic organizations can stay with it.Ms. Thomas’s interview focused on the work at the Foundation as it worked its way through the recession and banking/housing collapse. The details of the steps taken by the board at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation might not be relevant to everyone’s situation, but the willingness to re-examine where the commitments were and what commitments could truly be taken on board in the future are concerns we all face. In that spirit, we draw your attention to her writeup at The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
In terms of economics and philanthropy, the changes for most everyone have been toward the worse. Ms. Thomas asked about the financial state of the DDCF, and Mr. Cameron stressed the foundation’s commitment to its then-current commitments while avoiding extending new ones:
When the economy took a turn, we took a step back and assessed how we could meet the needs of our existing grantees. Rather than launch yet another new initiative, we opted to distribute general operating-support grants as a complement to our project grants
But the bigger question pertained to how the foundation prepared itself for the structural changes wrought by the economic collapse and how it judged the capabilities of its grant recipients to deal with the changes. Ben Cameron has realized that his training as a grant provider and judge was not the best starting point, given the new realities:
As a grant maker, I was trained to greet changes in leadership with a “wait and see” attitude—i.e., don’t begin funding if you haven’t been funding them in the past, but don’t reduce them either in fear of destabilizing them at a critical moment. But I’ve been asking myself recently: Is leadership transition an optimal moment in which to invest significantly in an organization to move innovation forward?
He presented four questions that have come from his recent experience of working with nonprofits as they contend with the economic crisis and rebuild from the ashes of the Recession. These questions are valuable to any mission-based organization or business that wants to get beyond mere survival. We believe these questions are worth posing among your board members, your employees, and/or your grant writers, because wrestling with and articulating answers in-house could prove rewarding when reaching out to the larger world.
- What is the biggest challenge you face?
- If you had significant resources, how would begin to think about tackling this challenge?
- Tell us about a moment of significant organizational change you’ve undertaken in the past.
- What is the biggest organizational failure you’ve encountered and
What is striking about these questions is that they are built on, shall we say, ‘counter assumptions’ of philanthropic and charitable organizations. They are questions that force us to think about adjustment, setback, recovery, realignment, and ongoing challenge. For decades, such organizations wanted to stress stability, continuity, ongoing success, and most likely they pitched their self-analysis in that direction (Think: “Where were we most successful in the last year? What programs are we continuing to expand? …”). But for now, not only is the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation going through re-evaluations, it is challenging its beneficiaries to do the same.
Is your organization asking such questions of itself and exploring ways to succeed in The Great Reset?